I yelled at my baby, and it was a turning point
It’s Friday night and the mood is right. No not like that. As a parent, it’s time to unwind from a long week of balancing work and the babies and maybe even veg out on some Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. Don’t judge. Over Guy Fieri’s yelling about flavor town, you just barely register the beginning of whimpers. Whimpers that you know will soon turn into clucks, and then shortly full on wails if not treated. Instead of pouring on some donkey sauce, you’re about to spend the next hour feeding and then settling a child. You fully expect that after though, you’ll at least get an hour or so of couch time. No, not tonight you fool. Tonight the boys test every shred of patience you have. And you are found wanting. This is exactly what led me to yell at my baby.
No one wants to yell at their child. No one sets out with a plan or intention to do so. But frustrations pile up. It had been a long work week culminating in a day at home where I got less done than anticipated due to feedings lining up exactly with the breaks I had between meetings. A full day meeting at a satellite office meant an early wake up on Tuesday that I never recovered from sleep-wise. It was the first week I had to take off from running for a leg muscle pull, adding to my stress because I was freaking out about the upcoming marathon I’d signed up for and meaning my normal distressing routine was interrupted. The boys were also just turning six weeks old, and showing signs of colic or what we’ve begun to refer to as “the witching hour” which actually lasts three to four. The pressure was building and an explosion was imminent.
The boys were getting into a more routine sleep schedule. This didn’t mean more sleep, but at least they were more consistently sleeping three hours, and sometimes up to four. We even got one stretch of five from Axel. Sadly whenever one would stretch longer, the other would still wake up normally, so we didn’t reap the benefits. They were also getting way more active during the day, especially the evenings. We started doing tummy time and the boys loved playing on their jungle play mat. Axel was showing a slightly unhealthy interest in the mirror and Anders was chirping at the animals and getting upset when they didn’t talk back. Hershey even started getting in on the action. Every time they squawked excitedly, held hands on the mat, or even smiled excitedly, my heart grew a bit. It was easy to forget this when they started screaming and wouldn’t stop.
After their normal evening feeding, neither boy seemed ready to settle down. They seemed antsy and unhappy even in their over the shoulder position which normally calmed them down and put them to sleep right away. We tried putting them in their rockers awake still to see if it would settle them down. After thirty minutes of continued pacifier resetting, vibration setting, rocking, soothing, and white noise playing, they were still grunting and groaning. Finally they sort of settled down so Gen went upstairs to get ready for the night. The second she did, Anders started wailing like a banshee.
There is something uniquely piercing about a baby’s scream. It is different from the cry you might hear in public as a child gets upset. This is the prolonged ramped up scream that penetrates your brain and ears like a drill through the back of your skull. Nothing can cause a migraine faster. Combined with the frustrating helpless feeling that comes from being totally unable to figure out what is upsetting your child, it can truly try your soul and patience. After half an hour of trying everything you can think of, and nothing seems to work, it is easy to be at one’s wit end.
I tried every position I could think of with Anders, and nothing settled him down. I tried singing every song I could think of, even his favorite John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt with no result. Dancing and walking around with him didn’t work either. Finally Gen came down and took him upstairs where the change in scenery was enough to settle him. From the stress and exhaustion, I laid back on the couch. Twenty minutes later, Axel started wailing. I lost it.
In my exhausted state, I tried for what seemed like an hour but was probably only ten minutes to settle him as well. His wailing increased and increased to something rivaling a fire engine horn. I was shot. I ran out of ideas, so I started yelling too. I think at first I yelled back in mocking cries, somehow thinking that a six week old would understand he was being mocked, react in a logical way and stop because I had shown him how ridiculous he was being. Yeah, like he was the ridiculous one. When that only made things worse, I started yelling at him to be quiet. Shockingly, this did nothing excite escalate him further.
Did losing my composure and yelling at my own child make me a bad parent. Yes. It did. I love the two of them so much and feel like a monster for doing it. It’s easy to forget how amazing they are playing with their animals or petting Hershey or holding hands when their screaming is stopping you from the only thing you want. It’s easy to forget that your priorities and desires are only second now to another human being’s. But that doesn’t make it ok. I’m fairly sure many, if not all parents reach a breaking point too, but that also doesn’t make it ok. I know they’ll never remember it, but I will, and our relationship will always be just that little bit worse as a result.
But the past is already written. All that I can do now is learn from it and use it as a turning point. Yes, I’ll almost certainly get frustrated with them again at some point — ok almost definitely in the next day or so — but if I can at least prevent myself from losing it, maybe that occurrence is worth it. Maybe the extra love I give them to make up for it will be worth it too.
So what can be done to prevent this the next time? Here are a few options I’ve realized.
Give up control
As an engineer, I like to make decisions based on data and observations. If something worked well in a similar situation before, it should work again. I’ve learned this is rarely the case with infants. Anders hated his pacifier and then started loving it one day. A day later, he was back to hating it. Accept that things will always be changing at this point.
Take a minute
Sometimes you just really need a break. It’s ok to give up for a minute, put the baby down, and recollect yourself. Sure the crying will continue, but the quick break can prevent you from going over the edge. Take that step back from the ledge. Try to at least get enough space to not have the screaming bore into your brain.
Remember the good times
While you take that minute to reset, try to remember how great they are when not screeching like a bald eagle in heat. Consult a picture if you have one. Or leave the jungle mat out in a convenient place to remind you how great they are there. Just remember that they can’t communicate except through screaming, so this is really just them trying to get a point across. Too bad you can’t understand it. They may seem like possessed monsters, but they’re still the monsters you love with all your heart. Also remember that it isn’t all about you or what you want these days.
Let ’em cry
While you’re taking that minute, they’re going to keep crying. Sometimes they are just so frustrated by something, something you’ll never figure out, that they just need to work it out on their own. This is an important lesson for later in their lives. As a parent your job isn’t to solve every problem for them. You need to give them the tools to solve their own problems. Sure, you can’t expect infants to do so, and it can be dangerous to assume they will, but there are times when the only thing that will stop them crying is crying. Kids are bizarre. Don’t let it go for a few minutes, and try all the obvious things first. But if a few shifting resting positions, their pacifier, their favorite songs, a favorite toy, diaper changing, or small amount of food don’t calm them down, nothing else may.
Like many things in life, a few moments invested early can save far more time later. Often times it’s hard to spend those moments in advance. It’s human nature to procrastinate, or fail to see the value of that investment. However, a few minutes invested in calming and settling the child can prevent this whole situation in the first place. It can be tempting to want to put him down the second he burps and shows signs of relaxing after eating, but an extra five minutes of settling before doing so can save thirty of a tantrum. Our boys tend to need at least two burps, often three or they won’t settle for the long haul. It’s pretty much impossible to get two even from patting and back rubbing, and even when you do, the second often results in a waterfall. Instead, holding them upright for a few minutes, and then reclining them — neither is an easy feat with how heavy they are getting — tends to get that extra burp and settle them into a more peaceful, and longer for us, rest. Think about the value of your time. What’s a better use of time, those five extra minutes of settling, or 45 of tantrum fighting?
It’s obviously easier said than done, but by following these plans, crisis can be averted. Hopefully the guilt from my freak out helps stay the course and be more patient next time. Let’s not forget how awesome the boys are the next time a demon posses them and they try to haunt the house. If our dog, Hershey can be patient enough to stick around and let them put their feet in his ear while screaming, anyone should be able to be more patient.